Responses to the COVID-19 pandemic

Last update: February 05, 2021

The Prison Policy Initiative is tracking which state and local governments are committing to early releases, reduced admissions, and necessary reforms to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and jails. This policy tracker is one of many COVID-19 resources we've published, all of which can be found on our main COVID-19 page.

Prisons and jails are amplifiers of infectious diseases such as the coronavirus, because social distancing is impossible inside and movement in and out of facilities is common. But if criminal justice officials make meaningful changes, they have the power to prevent COVID-19 deaths.

Update (November 18): We're still monitoring the news for virus-related policy changes, but reports of policy changes are becoming less frequent. If you know of notable reforms that should be listed here, please let us know at

Jails releasing people

Jails and prisons house large numbers of people with chronic diseases and complex medical needs who are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

One of the best ways to protect these people is to reduce overcrowding in correctional facilities. Many jails are already making these changes:

  • A California Superior Court judge ordered that the Orange County jail population must be cut in half, after ruling that the sheriff had failed to reduce the population enough to allow appropriate social distancing. The sheriff reports that this order will result in the release of more than 1,800 people. (December 12)
  • On April 6th, California set a statewide emergency bail schedule that reduced bail to $0 for most misdemeanor and some low-level felony offenses. Since then, California jail populations have dropped. By the end of May, jail populations in Los Angeles County and Sacramento County had decreased by over 30%. Orange County’s jail population dropped by almost 45% in the same period, while other counties — including San Diego, San Mateo, and Stanislaus — also released hundreds of people held pretrial. The judicial council voted to end this statewide emergency bail schedule in June, but 31 counties (collectively housing about 80% of California residents) have elected to keep the emergency bail schedule in place. (July 10)
  • Officials in the Detroit, Michigan area have taken numerous steps to reduce the county jail populations over the past three months. Sentencing judges ordered the release of 384 people from the Wayne County Jail and 150 people from the Oakland County jail, law enforcement reduced the number of arrests, and the chief judge of the county circuit court signed at least 200 orders for administrative releases since early March. (June 2)
  • In North Dakota, the Cass County Jail population has declined by over 30% since mid-March, and the Stutsman County Jail population has dropped by about 50%. (May 26)
  • Following an April 5th order from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which authorized the release of people held in jails pretrial for “nonviolent” offenses and those held on technical probation and parole violations, both the Plymouth County and Norfolk County jails have reduced their populations by around 20%. The Bristol County jail population, meanwhile, has decreased 11% since April 5th. (An April 14th story previously reported that 300 people held in jails across the state had been released as a result of the court order.) (May 20)
  • In Colorado Springs, Colorado, the El Paso County Jail population has dropped by about 30% from February to May. News reports are unclear about how the county achieved these population cuts. (May 20)
  • In Miami-Dade County jails, in Florida, the jail population has reportedly dropped from about 4,000 people before the pandemic to about 3,200 people -- about a 20% decrease in the average daily population. This reduction is the result of efforts by “lawyers and judges.” (May 19)
  • In March, Ohio courts in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) and Hamilton County began to issue court orders and conduct special hearings to increase the number of people released from local jails. Since March 10th, the Cuyahoga County jail has released about 900 people, reducing its population by more than 30%. (May 13)
  • The Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center in Virginia has reduced the jail population by about 20% from the daily average of the past 5 years. Most people who were released were placed on probation. (April 29)
  • In Charles County, Maryland, people have been released from jail following recent bail hearings and people serving short weekend sentences, and the jail is now reportedly “at less than 30% capacity.” A county public defender reports that of the 60 motions for release that he has filed, 30 people had been released as of April 28th. (April 29)
  • The Duval County, Florida jail population has dropped by approximately 16% over about a month, after the jail released people who were nearing the end of their misdemeanor sentences. (April 28)
  • In Washington County, Oregon, early releases of people held for “low-level” offenses have reportedly helped drop the jail population by “half.” (April 28)
  • Maricopa County, Arizona, reduced the jail population since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic from an average of 7,500 to 5,306 people on April 24th (almost a 30% reduction). (April 27)
  • The Sheriff’s Office reports that in Anderson County, Tennessee, the jail population has dropped from an average daily population of 415 to 280 people on April 27th (a more than 30% reduction). (April 27)
  • Approximately 300 people have been released from Orange County Jail in Florida in response to the pandemic. Those released were held pretrial. (April 25)
  • In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the local jail population has dropped by 17% since the beginning of April, following special court hearings to release hundreds of people held for low-level charges, cash-bail, and “nonviolent” charges. (April 22)
  • Over the course of a month, the jail population in Hennepin County, Minnesota, dropped by 44% following collaborative efforts to increase jail releases. (April 22)
  • In Clark County, Nevada (Las Vegas), 115 people have been released from county jail in the past week and the sheriff reports that over 100 more people may be eligible for release under the same court petition. (April 21)
  • From March 1st to April 15th, the average daily number of people in jail in Denver, Colorado, dropped by about 41% following the release of people over 60 years old, those who are pregnant or have health conditions, people with low bond amounts, and those with less than 60 days remaining on their sentences. (April 21)
  • Morgan County Jail, in Alabama, has released about 16% of their jail population — 107 people — since March 16th. The Sheriff’s Office provided lists of detained people to be considered for release including those held for “nonviolent” offenses and those with medical issues. (April 19)
  • As of April 14th, the Franklin County Jail population in Ohio has decreased by more than 30% over the course of 30 days. To do this, the county reduced average daily bookings from over 70 to about 25 per day and released people held pretrial for “non-violent misdemeanors,” people over the age of 60, and people held for technical violations of probation and parole. Franklin County has a page detailing the steps they have taken to reduce their jail population available here. (April 17)
  • In the past months, 45 people have been released from the Centre County Jail in Pennsylvania, reducing the jail population to only 195 people. (April 16)
  • Over the past month, some jails in Pennsylvania — including Bucks County and Northumberland County — have reduced the jail population by 30% via increased releases. (April 16)
  • Approximately 1,000 people were released from the jails in Dallas County, Texas to help reduce the risk of transmission. (April 16)
  • From March 18th to April 15th, the Washington, D.C. jail population has decreased by about 21.8%. (April 15)
  • In Cumberland County, Maine, the sheriff reports that the jail population has decreased by 25% since January, due in large part to release of people who were held for “low level, nonviolent crimes” with less than 90 days left on their sentences. (April 15)
  • Multnomah County Jail in Oregon has reduced their jail population by about 30% in the past month by reducing arrests and increasing early and pretrial releases. (April 14)
  • A judge in the Bronx approved the release of 51 people jailed for alleged parole violations on Rikers Island in New York City. (April 13)
  • 65 people have been released early from the Westchester County Jail in Valhalla, New York, following discussions between the District Attorney and the Legal Aid Society of Westchester. (April 13)
  • A judge in Georgia ordered the release of over 100 people being held at the Dekalb County Jail, decreasing the jail’s population by a reported 7%. (April 13)
  • In Alabama, Mobile Metro Jail’s population decreased from 1,580 to 1,100 in four weeks. The people who were released were charged with nonviolent offenses, over 55 years old, or had preexisting medical conditions that made them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. (April 10)
  • More than 100 people have been released from Boulder County Jail in Colorado following efforts from the district attorney’s office to reduce the jail population based on preexisting medical conditions and utilizing personal recognizance bonds. (April 4)
  • Over the course of the month of March, West Virginia jails have reduced their overall population by over 600 people. (April 1)
  • A Pennsylvania District Court judge ordered ICE to release more than 10 people being detained at the York County Prison, Clinton County Correctional Facility, and Pike County Correctional Facility because they are at elevated risk for serious complications from COVID-19. (March 31)
  • The Legal Aid Society in NYC secured the immediate release of over 100 individuals held at Rikers Island on non-criminal, technical parole violations. (March 27)
  • In Allegheny County, PA, 545 people held in the county jail were approved for release by the courts and physically discharged from custody. (March 27)
  • In New Orleans, Louisiana, the District Court judges have issued orders calling for the immediate release of people held in the New Orleans jail awaiting trial for misdemeanors, arrested for failure to appear at probation status hearing, detained in contempt of court, or detained for failing a drug test while on bond. (March 26)
  • New York City has released 200 people from Rikers Island in the past week, and expects to release another 175 people before the weekend. (March 26)
  • The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has reduced their jail population by 10% in the past month to mitigate the risk of virus transmission in crowded jails. To reduce the jail population by 1,700 people, the Sheriff reports releasing people with less than 30 days left on their sentences and the Department is considering releasing pregnant women and older adults at high risk. (March 24)
  • New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner signed an order calling for the temporary release of 1,000 people from jails(almost a tenth of the entire state's county jail population) across the state of New Jersey who are serving county jail sentences for probation violations, municipal court convictions, "low-level indictable crimes," and "disorderly persons offenses. (March 23)
  • In Salt Lake County, Utah, the District Attorney reported that the county jail plans to release at least 90 people this week and to conduct another set of releases of up to 100 more people in the next week. (March 21)
  • In Arizona, the Coconino County court system and jail have released around 50 people who were held in the county jail on non-violent charges. (March 20)
  • More than 85 people (almost 7% of the jail's population) have been released from the Greenville County Detention Center in Greenville, South Carolina, following a state order from the Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Beatty urging South Carolina judicial circuits to avoid issuing bench warrants and start releasing people charged with non-violent offenses. (March 20)
  • In Hillsborough County, Florida, over 160 people were released following authorization via administrative order for people accused of ordinance violations, misdemeanors, traffic offenses, and third degree felonies. (March 19)
  • Court orders in Spokane, Washington and in three counties in Alabama have authorized the release of people being held pretrial and some people serving sentences for "low-level" misdemeanor offenses. (March 17 and March 18)
  • In Travis County, Texas, judges have begun to release more people from local jails on personal bonds (about 50% more often than usual), focusing on preventing people with health issues who are charged with non-violent offenses from going into the jail system. (March 16)
  • District attorneys in San Francisco, California and Boulder, Colorado have taken steps to release people held pretrial, with limited time left on their sentence, and charged with non-violent offenses. (March 11 and March 16)
  • Read 40+ more entries

Prisons releasing people

Prisons are releasing almost no one, especially when compared to local jails, as we explained in a May 1st briefing. But state prisons are filled with people with preexisting medical conditions that put them a heightened risk for complications from this virus. So far, we are aware of these state corrections departments taking steps to reduce the prison population in the face of the pandemic:

  • After New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill (S2519) on October 19th allowing for people with less than a year left on their sentences to be released up to eight months early, more than 2,000 people were released on Wednesday, November 4th from state prisons. It is expected that at least 1,000 additional people will be released in the coming weeks and months. (November 5)
  • In California, a state appeals court ordered half of the 2,900 people incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison to be transferred or released. The court found that the prison failed to release some of the most vulnerable people, including those who are serving long sentences and have been in prison for decades. Prison officials will decide who will leave San Quentin and if they will be transferred or released. (October 20)
  • New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order on April 10th, supposedly beginning the process of “temporarily” releasing some people in state prisons who had been convicted of nonviolent offenses. As of September 10th, 416 people have been approved for release and 329 of them have already been released. (September 10)
  • In June, Oregon Governor Kate Brown agreed to consider early release for people identified as medically vulnerable, not serving a sentence for a crime against another person, and having served at least 50% of their sentence with a plan for returning to their community. On June 26th, the governor approved the release of 57 people. In August, Governor Brown asked for another list of people who meet the same criteria to consider for commutations. (August 25)
  • In April, Kentucky officials announced that Governor Beshear commuted the sentences of 186 people convicted of felonies and that the state planned to release over 700 more people within 6 months of completing their sentences. Months later, in August, the governor has commuted the sentences of 646 additional people with medical vulnerabilities or with less than 6 months left of their sentence for “nonviolent, nonsexual crimes.” (August 25)
  • In early April, the number of people being paroled from Michigan state prisons reportedly increased by about 1,000 people per month to reduce prison density. As of June 5th, the Department of Corrections reports that the overall prison population has decreased by 1,958 — or about 5% — since March 20th. On August 14th, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order that encourages the early release of people who are older, pregnant, near their release date, or with behavioral health concerns that can be redirected to treatment, as well as those incarcerated for traffic violations or failure to pay fines and fees. (August 14)
  • In New Jersey, a bill — S2519 — to reduce prison sentences during the pandemic is moving through the state legislature and was recently unanimously approved by the state Senate commerce committee. The bill would allow for a reduction of four months for every month served behind bars during a public health emergency (with a maximum sentence reduction of eight months). This bill is, to our knowledge, the only legislation of its kind so far. (July 30)
  • The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announced on June 16th that people in state prisons for “non-violent” offenses with less than 180 days left on their sentence are eligible for supervised release beginning July 1st. At the end of March, 3,500 people with parole dates scheduled for April were paroled a few days or weeks early. As of June 24th, state courts are reviewing approximately 3,500 more people who have been identified for early release from prisons in response to COVID-19. Meanwhile, Governor Newsom announced that he is granting 21 commutations and 13 pardons. In July, the CDCR announced that an estimated 8,000 more people could be released by the end of August. These potential releases include people who were scheduled to be released soon and the medically vulnerable. (July 10)
  • In early April, the Louisiana Department of Corrections created a review panel to consider up to 1,100 people for temporary medical release. By the time the panel was suspended in June, fewer than 600 cases had been reviewed, with a total of 63 people to be released. Those 63 people represent 11% of those considered, and about 0.2% of the entire Louisiana prison population. (June 30)
  • As of June 24th, the New Mexico Corrections Department announced that 71 people have been released from state prisons early due to COVID-19. At the end of May, the Corrections Department announced that 46 people had been released following an executive order from the governor to commute sentences of people within 30 days of their release date who meet specific offense criteria. It is not clear if those 46 commutations are included in the most recent reports of 71 people being released early. (June 24)
  • On April 10th, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf agreed to temporary reprieve for people in state prisons who met specific eligibility criteria. This was expected to potentially affect up to 1,800 incarcerated people, but almost one month later, only 150 people have been released under this program. In June, the Pennsylvania state government also claimed to have taken action "furloughing paroled individuals from centers to home plans; working with the parole board to maximize parole releases; reviewing parole detainers for those in county jails and state prisons; expediting the release process for anyone with a pending approved home plan; [and] reviewing and releasing inmates who are beyond their minimum sentences," but has not said how many individuals benefited from those actions. (June 24)
  • In New York at the end of March, Governor Cuomo announced that up to 1,100 people who are being held in jails and prisons across the state may be released with community supervision. As of June 8th, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision reports that 898 people have been released after reviewing individuals for early release in light of COVID-19. (June 8)
  • In Connecticut (which has a combined prison and jail system), the Department of Correction Commissioner granted discretionary release to 560 people in May. Since March 1st, the prison population has dropped by about 2,000 people (or 16%). In June, following a federal lawsuit, the DOC is now required to identify people 65 and older who meet specific criteria to “fast track” them for release consideration. (June 8) (June 8)
  • The Colorado Department of Corrections has released 290 people following the March 25th executive order from the governor, which gave the DOC authority to release people within 180 days of their parole eligibility date. In April, reports suggested that “hundreds” of people could be eligible for early release. (May 29)
  • On May 19th, a federal judge ordered the federal Bureau of Prisons to "expedite the release" of 837 people in the Elkton Federal Correctional Institution in Ohio. (May 20)
  • The Oklahoma Department of Corrections identified 126 incarcerated people with medical issues that elevate their risk for COVID-19 and recommended 14 of those to the Pardon and Parole Board to review in an emergency medical parole docket on May 13th. The Board recommended medical parole for 12 of those people (of the other 2 people, one was already paroled and the other waived his right for parole because his release date is imminent). (May 14)
  • In Arkansas, the governor issued a directive on April 20th to consider the early release of some people in state prison. Since then, the state Board of Corrections has made over 1,200 people “immediately” eligible for parole. On May 12th, state officials reported that 300 people had been released from Arkansas state prisons. (May 14)
  • The North Dakota Parole Board granted 120 applicants parole in March, all related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, more than 100 other people were granted parole, although there is no official statement that these were also exclusively the result of mitigation efforts around COVID-19. (May 8)
  • On April 23, lawmakers approved the governor’s proposal to grant the Virginia Department of Corrections the authority to release people in prison for “nonviolent” offenses with one year or less remaining in their sentences. Since then, as of May 7th, 130 people have been released, and another 100 have been approved for early release. (May 8)
  • According to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, almost 1,600 people have been released from state prisons from March 2nd to May 4th in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of them - 1,447 people - were detained for technical violations of probation or parole. (May 8)
  • Following Governor Cuomo’s announcement on April 30th, 6 pregnant women were released from New York state prisons on May 5th. Two more incarcerated pregnant women are expected to be released as well. These women met the criteria set out by the governor for the release of “pregnant, nonviolent offenders with under six months remaining on their sentences.” (May 6)
  • According to a report from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, almost 1,000 people have been released from state prisons between April 3rd and May 3rd, but it is not clear how many of these people were let out in response to the pandemic or how many were already scheduled to be released. (May 5)
  • On April 30, the governor of Kansas announced the upcoming release of some people nearing the end of their prison sentences. As of May 4th, only 6 people had been released from prison to home confinement as a result of the pandemic. (May 4)
  • The North Carolina Department of Public Safety announced that they have released 485 people early from state prisons since March 1st. In addition, 182 people were released to serve their sentences outside of prison, in home confinement. (The ACLU of North Carolina pointed out that this is not a significant improvement upon normal release schedules, as approximately 68 people were released daily prior to the pandemic. The same could be said of other states that are releasing people slowly.) (May 3)
  • In Hawaii (which has a combined jail and prison system), the state supreme court appointed a special master to coordinate potential releases with public defenders beginning in early April. Since March 2nd, courts have reportedly granted early release to 655 people, following motions filed primarily by the Office of the Public Defender. (May 1)
  • Misleading news reports (such as this one from WMBD) are suggesting that 4,000 people in Illinois have been released early since March 1. Readers should be aware that over 3,000 of those 4,000 had completed their sentences already, and most of those remaining were very close to their release dates.
  • In New Jersey, 54 people have been released from prison to emergency medical-home confinement, following an executive order from the governor signed on April 10th. This represents less than 3% of the people considered eligible for release under that order. (April 28)
  • On April 16th, the Washington Department of Corrections published the names of over 1,500 people to be released early from state prisons. As of April 23rd, the governor has commuted the sentences of 293 people and about 41 people received work release furloughs. (April 23)
  • On March 23rd, the Iowa Department of Corrections announced the planned, expedited release of about 700 incarcerated people who have been determined eligible for release by the Iowa Board of Parole. Since March 1st, 811 people have been released from prison. On April 20th, the Iowa DOC announced that the department is in the process of releasing 482 more people early. (April 20)
  • In Maryland, Governor Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. signed an executive order allowing for the accelerated release of people within 4 months of completing their sentence, prioritizing release for older people, and encouraging consideration of release to home detention. (April 19)
  • On April 16th, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine authorized the early release of 105 people from state prison who are nearing the end of their sentence. On April 17th, he commuted the sentences of 7 people in Ohio state prisons. (April 17)
  • In April, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt commuted the sentences of over 450 people. An initial press release stated that approximately 400 of those people would be released on April 16th, but the Governor's office has since claimed this was a communication error, and it is now being reported that only about 100 individuals will be released on the 16th. (April 16)
  • Following a ruling from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on April 3rd, 13 people have been released and 58 people have been paroled from state prisons. In addition, 23 requests for medical parole were approved. (April 14)
  • Maryland Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera ordered the state’s trial courts to identify and release people in prisons who are at risk for COVID-19 and “pose no threat to public safety.” (April 14)
  • The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that people held pretrial for non-violent offenses and those held for technical probation/parole violations are eligible for hearings to determine if they can be released. (April 3)
  • In Wisconsin, the Department of Corrections released 1,000 people held on probation or parole detainers (i.e. for a probation or parole violation). (April 2)
  • In the month of March, the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation reduced their prison population by over 100 people. The releases included 70 people who were serving short prison terms for “parole-related sanctions,” and some people who were eligible for weekend furloughs have had their furloughs extended to two weeks. (April 1)
  • The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has begun to review approximately 200 people for early release. They are considering people serving time for nonviolent offenses who are within 180 days of completing their prison sentences (or of their tentative parole date). (March 31)
  • The Utah Department of Corrections has recommended over 80 people for release from state prisons to the Board of Pardons and Parole. The DOC reports that the people referred for release are within 90 days of completing their sentences. (March 26)
  • The Director of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections is submitting weekly lists of people being held on low bail amounts to the public defender's and attorney general's offices for assessment in efforts to have them released. (Rhode Island is one of a handful of states that do not have jails, meaning that pretrial detainees are held in prisons.) The state DOC is also evaluating people with less than 4 years on their sentences to see if they can apply "good time" and release them early. (March 25)
  • In Illinois, the governor signed an executive order that eases the restrictions on early prison releases for "good behavior" by waiving the required 14-day notification to the State Attorney's office. The executive order explicitly states that this is an effort to reduce the prison population, which is particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 outbreak. (March 23)
  • Read 20+ more entries

Reducing jail and prison admissions

Lowering jail admissions reduces “jail churn” — the rapid movement of people in and out of jails — and will allow the facility's total population to drop very quickly.

  • The Cuyahoga County Jail (Cleveland, Ohio) announced that the jail will stop admitting people on new misdemeanor charges, except in cases of domestic violence charges, to reduce the jail population in the face of growing COVID-19 infection rates. (November 16)
  • On July 10th, the sheriff announced that in Jefferson County, Alabama, the jail would limit admissions to only “violent felons that cannot make bond” (it's unclear whether "violent" refers to the crime a person is charged with, crimes of which they have already convicted, a label imposed on them by a risk assessment tool, or something else). One week later, the jail resumed normal admission operations. (August 7)
  • In April, the San Marcos, Texas city council passed a city ordinance to compel police to use citations in lieu of arrests for certain misdemeanors. The Hays County sheriff announced that starting September 1st, the sheriff’s office will be instituting a new “Cite and Divert” program in an effort to reduce arrests, jail time, and criminal charges. (July 9)
  • In April, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon announced that they had reduced their county jail population to 83 people by reducing arrests (the average population is 165 people) by only admitting people who were arrested for “serious crimes.” On June 9th, the jail resumed admissions for additional charges, including all “person to person” crimes (felony or misdemeanor). (June 9)
  • Across the state of Delaware (which has a combined jail and prison system), arrests for felony and misdemeanor crimes have dropped by about 45% following the governor’s March 12th emergency stay-at-home order. Some Delaware law enforcement officials attribute this to a combined effect of people adhering to the stay-at-home order and also to “changes in policing...for the safety of officers and to prevent the spread of COVID-19.” (May 5)
  • Hawaii’s statewide jail population has decreased by about 37%. Information about specific jails is limited, but we know that the Maui Community Correctional Center in Hawaii has seen a population drop of 38%. The Department of Public Safety attributes these decreases to diversion efforts by law enforcement, the Public Safety’s Intake Services Division, and the court systems; as well as release efforts driven by the Office of the Public Defender and the state Supreme Court. (May 4)
  • District attorneys in Brooklyn, New York and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, took steps in mid-March to reduce jail admissions by releasing people charged with non-violent offenses and not actively prosecuting low-level, non-violent offenses. The Philadelphia Police Department announced on May 1st that they will resume arrests for certain property crimes. (May 1)
  • In Maricopa County, Arizona, county prosecutors have reduced the number of charges they are filing, which has helped effect a jail population drop of almost 30%. In the first week of March 2020, prosecutors filed 734 cases, and last week, they filed only 107. (April 28)
  • The population of the Halifax County Adult Detention Center, in Virginia, has decreased from 184 people in December 2019 to 150 people currently (about an 19% reduction). The jail administrator cites reduced court commitments, as well as individual court orders to release people. (April 26)
  • Since the California statewide emergency order issued on April 6th, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office has released half of the people who have been arrested with citations, rather than admitting them to the county jail. (April 20)
  • In Kentucky, arrests have decreased from about 700 per day to 175 per day to reduce the pretrial jail population, according to the director of the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts. (April 17)
  • In Ramsey County, Minnesota (Minneapolis), daily jail bookings have dropped by about 74% between the first week of March and the first week of April. Last year, the jail averaged 60 new admissions to the jail and this March, the average was under 20 new admissions per day. (April 16)
  • In York County, Maine, police officers are making fewer arrests, issuing summons for less serious offenses, and judges are allowing sentences to be delayed. Over the course of the month of March, this approach reduced the jail population by about one third. Since March 11th, only 61 arrests have taken place in York County. (April 15)
  • The Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office in Wisconsin has reduced the county jail population from an average of 120 people to 50-60 people, primarily through citation and release rather than arrest and pretrial detention. (April 10)
  • In King County, Washington (Seattle), jails are no longer accepting people booked for misdemeanor charges that do not present a public safety concern or people who are arrested for violating terms of community supervision. The Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention is also delaying all misdemeanor "commitment sentences" (court orders requiring someone to report to a jail at a later date to serve their sentence). (March 24)
  • In response to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections' decision not to admit any new people to state prisons, Tulsa and Oklahoma counties are trying to keep their jail population down by not arresting people for misdemeanor offenses and warrants, and by releasing 130 people this past week through accelerated bond reviews and plea agreements. (March 22)
  • The state of Maine vacated all outstanding bench warrants (for over 12,000 people) for unpaid court fines and fees and for failure to appear for hearings in an effort to reduce jail admissions. (March 17)
  • Police departments in Los Angeles County, California, Denver, Colorado, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are reducing arrests by using cite and release practices, delaying arrests, and issuing summons. In Los Angeles County, the number of arrests has decreased from an average of 300 per day to about 60 per day. (March 16 and March 17)
  • Baltimore, Maryland State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby will dismiss pending criminal charges against anyone arrested for drug offenses, trespassing, and minor traffic offenses, among other nonviolent offenses. (March 18)
  • In Bexar County, Texas, Sheriff Javier Salazar released a COVID-19 mitigation plan that includes encouraging the use of cite and release and "filing non-violent offenses at large," rather than locking more people up during this pandemic. (March 14)
  • Read 10+ more entries

Reducing prison admissions reduces the risk of viral transmission into the prison population and helps maintain a prison population size to which the facility can provide appropriate medical care.

  • On March 26th, the Illinois governor signed an executive order that halted new admissions to state prison facilities. This practice remained in place until July 27th, when transfers from county jails to Illinois Department of Corrections facilities resumed. (July 28)
  • In late March, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order halting new intakes at California’s state prisons and juvenile facilities to prevent transmissions of the virus from jails into state prisons. As of August 24th, intakes have resumed at least two of the five California state prisons. (September 1)
  • The Colorado Department of Corrections states that, in concert with law enforcement, arrests for “low level technical parole violations” are temporarily suspended to help reduce the number of people being returned to state prisons. (March 23)
  • The Oklahoma Department of Corrections announced that they are suspending admissions of newly sentenced individuals to state prisons, in an effort to prevent the virus from spreading rapidly behind prison bars. (March 22)

Reducing incarceration and unnecessary face-to-face contact for people on parole and probation

Below, we list jurisdictions that are limiting unnecessary check-ins and visits to offices for people on parole, probation, or on registries — steps that will reduce the risk of viral transmission. Given the unprecedented rate of unemployment, the Fines & Fees Justice Center is also tracking jurisdictions suspending supervision fees for people on probation and parole. For recommended measures that probation and parole agencies should take during the pandemic to protect people under supervision, see EXiT’s response tracker and recommendations.

  • In early April, the Mississippi Department of Corrections temporarily suspended check-ins for people on probation, parole, house arrest, and any other forms of community supervision, replacing in-person check-ins with phone, email, or video check-ins during the week. As of July 1st, limited office check-in visits have resumed for people on probation, parole, house arrest, and other forms of community supervision. It is not clear how the Department of Corrections is determining who is required to complete these face-to-face check-ins. (July 1)
  • In Nevada, the Division of Parole and Probation has suspended in-person check-ins for people on probation and parole, although fees are still being collected - including monthly supervision fees, charges for drug tests, and court-ordered restitution payments - despite record high unemployment rates. (March 23)
  • The Arkansas Department of Corrections Division of Community Corrections has suspended supervision fees for the month of April 2020 and suspended face-to-face office visits. (March 20)
  • In New York state, all in-person parole visits have been suspended and replaced with telephone call, text message, and video call check-ins. (March 20)
  • The Rhode Island Department of Corrections announced that probation and parole offices will not hold in-person check-ins and that individual parole or probation officers will provide instructions to people on parole and probation about maintaining appropriate remote communication. (March 18)
  • The California Department of Adult Parole Operations has reduced the number of required check-ins to protect staff and the supervised population by suspending office visits for people 65 and older, and those with chronic medical conditions. (March 17)

Eliminating medical co-pays

In most states, incarcerated people are expected to pay $2-$5 co-pays for physician visits, medications, and testing in prisons. Because incarcerated people typically earn 14 to 63 cents per hour, these charges are the equivalent of charging a free-world worker $200 or $500 for a medical visit. The result is to discourage medical treatment and to put public health at risk. In 2019, some states recognized the harm and eliminated these co-pays in prisons. We’re tracking how states are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic:

Table created March 13, 2020 and last updated: June 1, 2020. We welcome updates from states that have revised their policies. States can contact us at *The Delaware Department of Corrections has not changed their co-pay policy. According to the DOC’s co-pay policy dated December 2019, there are no copays for “diagnostic and treatment of contagious/communicable diseases.” The Delaware DOC has confirmed that this includes diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19.
States that do not charge co-pays States that have suspended all co-pays for incarcerated people in response to the COVID-19 pandemic States that have suspended all co-pays for respiratory, flu-related, or COVID-19 symptoms States that have not made any changes in co-pay policy regarding COVID-19 pandemic
District of Columbia
New Mexico
New York
Rhode Island
West Virginia
New Hampshire
New Jersey
North Carolina
North Dakota
South Carolina
South Dakota

Reducing the cost of phone and video calls

Most federal prisons, state prisons and many local jails have decided to drastically reduce or completely eliminate friends and family visitation so as to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure in facilities. In normal times, we would point to the significant evidence that sustained meaningful contact with family and friends benefits incarcerated people in the long run, including reducing recidivism. But it is even more important, in this time of crisis, for incarcerated people to know that their loved ones are safe and vice versa. While many facilities have suspended in-person visitation, only a few have made an effort to supplement this loss by waiving fees for phone calls and video communication. Here are four notable examples:

  • The Federal Bureau of Prisons has made phone calls and video calls free. Access to these communication services is likely limited by facility-specific policies, lockdowns, and availability of video calling equipment. (April 14)
  • Shelby County, Tennessee suspended jail visitations, but to maintain these vital connections between families, they are waiving fees for all phone calls and video communication. (March 12)
  • During the month of April, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) provided free calls on three days each week. (The department is now only offering two "free calling days" per month.)
  • The Utah Department of Corrections is giving people in prison 10 free phone calls per week, with each call limited to 15 minutes. (Calls that go beyond the 15-minute limit will incur charges.)

Other jurisdictions have implemented cost reductions that - while better than nothing - still severely restrict contact between incarcerated people and their loved ones. Prisons in Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, and Pennsylvania are offering residents even smaller numbers of free calls per week. The same is true for jails in a number of counties, including Harris County, Texas and Montgomery County, Ohio.

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